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Billy Porges spends more time thinking about his hair than the average man. On any given day, it’s pink, platinum, or a full spectrum of colors in between. It wouldn’t take you more than 10 seconds to sense that there’s a backstory underneath the layers of dye and bleached strands. And there is: a transformation that could only happen after coming out. Whatever color of the rainbow his hair is that day, it’s hard-won, and if you noticed it, that’s intentional.
Raised in Short Hills, New Jersey, Porges remembers his adolescence as one defined by sameness. Nobody dressed interestingly (or out of the go-to popular kid uniform), his high school’s social structure was unforgiving, and he didn’t see any escape from preppy clothes and his natural dark brown hair. Years before he had the vocabulary or the self-confidence to come out, Porges struggled with the nagging idea that he wasn't like any of his peers.
“I had the idea that I was different from everyone else but I wasn’t ready to share that part of myself with the world—I didn’t feel comfortable in my school, I didn’t feel like I was accepted, and I also didn’t really see any like-minded people,” he remembers. “I always had this desire to dye my hair…I felt like it kind of became this idea that if you do this to your hair, everyone’s going to know that you’re gay and that held me back for a while.”
It wasn’t until enrolling in New York’s Vassar College that Porges began to see a way out from the same old standards of personal appearance. He remembers male-presenting and gender-nonconforming students wearing pink eyeliner, dresses, and basically whatever they felt like throwing on that day. An idea began to take shape, though Porges wasn't quite ready to act on it.
“Coming out, for me, was a really long process…it was very challenging for me because of where I grew up, because of not really having any queer role models in my life,” he explains. “I think that had I been able to get unstuck sooner, maybe I would have progressed a little further in the way I express myself and the way I understand myself.”
The moment arrived, kicking and screaming. By 2015, Porges had come out, and by 2017, he’d made major strides toward showing his identity on the outside, wearing nail polish or a little makeup on nights out with like-minded friends.
But still, something wasn’t sitting right.
“I was fully out to my family, to all my friends in college I had been out for a couple of years, to my extended family, but I realized I hadn’t been speaking to it by any means. Anyone who I didn’t stay in touch with from high school or who I wasn’t exactly related to didn’t really know that I had gone through this change and really expressed myself, and come out.”
It was time to make a big change. After years of burying his identity in fear, Porges wanted to do more than just telling the people he loved. He wanted to tell everyone. Inspired by the visibly queer students who’d meant so much to him as a teenager coming to college and the beauty lovers who worked on his team at L’Oréal, he made a big decision.
While on a work trip at a professional hair show in Ohio, Porges got to chatting with a Redken stylist about going bleach blonde. By the time she was drying the final product, the change in Porges was palpable.
“I really just felt the biggest weight lifted off of my shoulders—just like when I first came out to my parents—because I felt like I didn’t have to hide myself from social media and that was a big change for me. I didn’t have to represent myself a certain way and I didn’t have to tone down my image to fit in…there’s no one I need to be fitting in for. It’s me, I’m doing this for myself.”
It’s been a year and a half since Porges went blonde, and he still sounds audibly relieved when he talks about the change. In the time since, he’s gone pink, blue, purple, and everything in between—a serious perk of working at a beauty company. He even pushed “share” on an emotional Instagram post about his hair journey timed for National Coming Out Day, the same one that caught Hair.com’s attention.
For Porges, dying his hair was the start of a change in his life, one that’s continued far past that first hair appointment.
“Especially as a white cis male, I have immense privilege to be able to walk around and express my queer identity,” he says. “If I got to a point where I had to make a decision between my hair and my career, I’m going to potentially choose my self-expression because I don’t want to be in a position where I have to change who I am. I don’t want to go back to that.”
Porges is very open about the idea that one day he might find that his hair no longer expresses the extent of who he is. It might be clothes, it might conversation—he’s still young and figuring himself out. Until then, he’s proud to be a beacon of queerness for others in his community to see, the kind he wishes he would’ve had years before college.
“I’m excited about the prospect of someone who is like me or is like past-me, who might see me on the street or hear me talk at L’Oréal or something like that, and be like ‘that could be me, why am I holding myself back?’”
Don’t expect that blonde to go away any time soon—Porges is having too much fun.
For resources and support for LGBTQ youth and allies, visit www.thetrevorproject.com or dial 1-866-488-7386 for a 24/7 hotline.
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